Are Kias good cars? Are they reliable? Let’s just say they’re not like they once were.
There was a time not too long ago when Kia cars were looked down on as unreliable junk that only broke and desperate people would buy, but it appears that unflattering reputation has come to pass, forever left in a blazing Kia’s rearview mirror.
Through decades of hard work, the Korean has transformed from a bargain basement afterthought to one of the world’s most respected and revered car brands, one often compared to the likes of Toyota and Honda. Quite an accomplishment, isn’t it?
That of course begs the questions: Are Kias good cars? Are Kias reliable? Do they offer the same quality as the best Japanese cars like every Kia dealer would want you to believe?
We provide a balanced look at the Korean carmaker to see if it has truly made it to the big league.
About Kia And Its Cars
Founded in 1944 as Kyungsung Precision Industry, a steel tubings and bicycle parts manufacturer, and then rebranding to Kia Motors in 1952, Kia is the second largest Korean carmaker after Hyundai Motors and a major player on the world stage.
The company was practically obscure until the early 2000s, a period when it was the butt of jokes for making bland, low-quality cars that sold on price and a lengthy seven-year warranty rather than on substance. It went bankrupt in 1997 and was consequently purchased by Hyundai.
After spending billions researching how to improve quality, build compelling vehicles, and build up goodwill, Kia’s situation improved markedly in the 2010s. The brand is now a reliable fixture at the top of reliability studies, offering cars that people buy out of desire rather than desperation.
Its ever-expanding lineup of vehicles has a model for nearly every mainstream demographic, and every single one of them offers incredible value for the price.
The midsize Optima (renamed to ‘K5’), compact Forte, and funky Soul hatchback were the most popular Kias until the SUV craze of the past several years catapulted the Sportage, Seltos, and Sorento crossovers to the top. Need a capable city car? The Rio subcompact is a safe bet.
Kia has two large family haulers, the Carnival minivan (previously the Sedona) and Telluride three-row crossover. The Telluride, in particular, is such a standout product that it can often be found on the 10Best list of many publications.
The Korean automaker isn’t big on coupes or sports cars (they are dying segments), but the rear-wheel-drive Stinger is a sporty and stylish sedan that’s engaging to drive and should appease many practical-minded driving enthusiasts.
Kia does, however, have a “luxury” car in the form of the K900, a flagship sedan that serves as a very affordable alternative to the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and BMW 7 Series.
It has also invested heavily in electrification and has the capable Soul EV and hybrid and full-electric versions of the Niro crossover to show for it, with more models on the way.
Are Kias Good Cars?
Now that you have an understanding of Kia and its current lineup, let’s look at just how good its vehicles truly are on the basis of safety, quality, performance, tech and convenience, affordability, cost of ownership, and styling.
Contrary to what you might have been told, Kias of today have a proven track record for safety. They are engineered from the ground up with all the passive and active safety features you would expect of a modern vehicle.
All models, from the tiny Rio to the large Telluride, also come with a host of advanced driver-assistance technologies such as forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, blindspot warning, and driver attention monitor, all of which help prevent accidents.
As a result of their solid engineering and available driver-assistance features, every Kia has earned either a Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick+ rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the two highest designations.
It’s the same story outside of North America, where they perform at the highest caliber on safety assessments by the Euro NCAP, ASEAN NCAP, and Latin NCAP.
You will be happy to know that, whereas many automakers make their advanced driver assistance tech optional features, Kia makes them standard on a growing number of its vehicles.
So, are Kias safe cars? Yes. Kia’s cars perform at the highest level on safety assessments around the world, thanks to their modern active, passive, and driver-assistance safety features.
Are Kias Reliable?
It was a decades-long transformation, but Kia has gone from consistently showing up at the bottom of reliability rankings to being a staple in the top half. In RepairPal’s 2021 reliability assessment, it placed 3rd out of 32 brands, better than all Japanese brands except Honda.
The average Kia visits a repair shop approximately 0.2 times a year for unscheduled repairs, compared to an average of 0.4 for all models evaluated. Subaru, a brand people often think has better reliability than Kia, has a frequency of 0.33.
Kia has ranked in the top half of Consumer Reports’ Auto Reliability survey for six consecutive years, performing better in some periods than others.
Needless to say, the past 10 years have seen the Korean automakers perform leaps and bounds in the area of reliability, rubbing shoulders with industry titans such as Toyota and Honda.
The idea of a Kia lasting 300,000 miles (482,803 km) would have seemed far-fetched 10-20 years ago, but we now live in a world where it’s not uncommon for a properly maintained Kia to last that long. According to RepairPal, the Rio, Soul, and Forte are the most reliable Kia vehicles.
Of course, we can’t talk about Kia reliability without mentioning the company’s generous warranty. Kia offers a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty, which is the longest in the industry.
So, are Kias reliable? Yes. The reliability of Kia’s cars has improved so much over the past 20 years that it rivals Toyota and Honda’s reliability. Plus, Kia offers one of the best warranties in the automotive industry.
Kias were once known for riding rough and handling poorly, as well as having mediocre power and fuel efficiency. Today’s models couldn’t be any different.
The first thing you will notice when driving one is just how comfortable and compliant the ride is. Handling isn’t as sporty or engaging as you get with a Mazda, but it’s not as numb or floaty as Toyotas of the recent past. You get a good balance.
As for acceleration and fuel economy, Kia’s modern engines and transmissions are generally more than competitive within their respective classes. They are also refined, meaning noise and vibration won’t be an issue.
The Kia Stinger kicks the performance ante up a notch, offering sports car-like performance for those driving enthusiasts who want something a bit more exciting.
So, do Kias have good performance? Yes. Kia cars have never driven or handled better. They offer a comfortable ride, good handling, more than sufficient power, and great fuel economy.
All the tech, comfort, convenience, and driver-assistance offered by Toyota, Honda, and virtually every other mainstream automaker can be had on a Kia. This includes industry standards such as a large touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration.
You can also have Bluetooth connectivity, a Wi-Fi hotspot, wireless phone charging, USB ports, SiriusXM satellite radio, leather upholstery, heated steering wheel and seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, and much more.
Whereas most rivals offer these features as optional extras, Kia makes many of them standard on its base models.
Kwame, what about self-driving tech, you ask? Kia isn’t a first-mover like Tesla, General Motors, or even Nissan, but it has put aside billions of dollars to develop driverless cars.
So, do Kias have good technology? Yes. Kia offers all the tech and convenience features you could need and makes many of them standard across its lineup.
Despite the drastic improvement in their quality, reliability, and value, Kia’s cars are still generally less expensive than their competitors, though not always. This is especially true when you consider the generous number of standard features they often come with.
That’s not to say Kia’s cars are attainable for everyone, however. The cheapest Kia, the Rio, for instance, ranges from around $16,000 to almost $20,000 in the United States, while the flagship Telluride SUV and K900 luxury sedan kick off at approximately $32,000 and $60,000, respectively.
The Telluride and K900 can reach $42,000 and $65,000 with options, which isn’t necessarily cheap.
One thing Kia usually does better than the competition is give buyers more for less. Kias tend to come with more standard tech, convenience, and driver-assistance features than comparably-priced models from other automakers.
On the second-hand market, used Kias are generally cheaper than used Toyotas and Hondas. Though increasing, their resale value is weighed down by people who still think Kia makes bad cars.
So, are Toyotas affordable? Yes. Both new and used Kia cars tend to have lower prices than the competition while providing more standard features. You get a better value for money.
Cost Of Ownership
Kia cars are cheap to own. In addition to being affordable and reliable, they deliver great fuel efficiency and, all things considered, are fairly cheap to insure.
According to RepairPal’s data, the average Kia doesn’t visit a shop for unscheduled repairs very often. And when it does, there is only a 10 percent chance that the repair will be severe.
The total average scheduled and unscheduled repair cost for all Kia models is $474 annually, a lot lower than the $652 average cost estimated for all models.
The Kia Soul, in particular, has such superb reliability that most new models can go for several years without needing unscheduled maintenance.
So, are Kias cheap to own? Yes. Kia’s modern cars are cheap on gas, cheap to maintain, and generally cheap to insure.
Kias used to have bland styling to go along with their positioning as bargain-basement appliances on wheels, but all of that changed when Kia poached designer Peter Schreyer, whose resume included the original Audi TT sports car, away from Audi in 2006.
The excitement volume has been dialed up considerably since then, with modern Kias now exhibiting some of the most distinctive designs out there.
Their designs aren’t polarizing like what you get with the latest rash of Toyotas. Although skewing younger and sportier than most competing makes, they are not controversial by any means.
Granted not everyone will like Kia’s latest styling direction, there is no doubt that it has more emotional appeal than the brand’s old designs.
So, do Kias look good? While beauty is in the eye of the beholder, today’s Kias look far less bland and boring than their distant predecessors. Unlike some of the competition, they have distinct styling with emotional appeal.
The Verdict On Kia Cars
It’s a new era for Kia. Once ridiculed for making shoddy cars that hardly anyone would buy if not for their rock-bottom prices and long warranty, the Korean automaker is now able to stand toe-to-toe with the best.
After spending the first 10 years of the 21st century with some of the worst safety and reliability scores, Kia cars are now some of the safest, most reliable cars on the road.
After years of performing below industry standards with regards to ride, handling, power, and fuel efficiency, they are now some of the easiest to drive, compliant, comfortable, and fuel-efficient vehicles you can buy.
Kia also provides buyers with a lot of tech, comfort, and driver-assistance features for the money, often more than the competition.
The bland, boring-looking Kias of yesteryear are no more. What you now have are boldly designed cars with some personality.
Best of all, this high level of substance is provided at prices that don’t alienate the average mainstream car buyer. Whether new or used, Kias are very affordable.
So, are Kias good cars? Even though Kia is still saddled with a reputation for poor reliability, there is no denying that the company now makes some of the highest-quality, best-designed vehicles available today.